MCOA rules search of vehicle proper


On August 15, 2020, an ambulance was dispatched to 298 Roy Schmidt Road in Sontag, Mississippi. Upon arrival, paramedics discovered Brandy Turnage in critical condition. Brandy was transported by ambulance to a landing area where she would be airlifted to a Jackson hospital. During transportation, Brandy’s husband, Dan Turnage, followed the ambulance in his own truck. Tyler Blalock, the paramedic inside the ambulance, testified that he observed Turnage driving erratically and noted that at several moments, it appeared that he was attempting to strike the ambulance from the back and run it off of the road. The incident was reported to the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

On August 18, 2020, Sheriff Ryan Everett of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department arrived at Dan Turnage’s residence to speak to Turnage about the ambulance incident. Upon entry onto the property, Sheriff Everett observed Turnage and Barry Tabor sitting in Turnage’s parked truck in the front yard. When they saw Sheriff Everett, Turnage and Tabor exited and stepped away from the truck in a hurried manner. Sheriff Everett testified that as he was speaking with Turnage, who was standing near the truck, he observed what appeared to be drug paraphernalia in plain view on the truck’s front seat. Sheriff Everett detained Turnage and Tabor and called for backup so that a search could be conducted. Shortly thereafter, Chief Deputy Brad McLendon arrived at the scene. Sheriff Everett observed Tabor reach inside the front pocket of his pants, which prompted the sheriff to search Tabor’s person. A .40-caliber pistol was seized from inside Tabor’s pocket. Both Tabor and Turnage were handcuffed.

Clint Hedgepath, a narcotics investigator, also arrived on the scene. During a search of the truck, law enforcement found a camouflaged bag that contained a metal container. Officers opened that container and discovered more suspected methamphetamine, which was then seized. The substance was later determined to be 11.86 grams of methamphetamine. Turnage and Tabor were arrested, and Turnage was charged as a habitual offender with possession of a controlled substance.

The motion to suppress evidence was denied based on the automobile exception. At trial, Turnage was tried in abstentia.

Sheriff Everett testified that he walked over to the truck to speak with Turnage and Tabor and looked inside the truck. He didn’t open the door, but looked through the windows, which were down. He noticed what appeared to be a meth pipe. He could not recall if he saw a couple of pipes or just one. At this point, Sheriff Everett detained Turnage and Tabor and did a brief look in the truck and found a camouflaged bag which contained a substance in it. Suspecting that this substance was narcotics, he contacted Hedgepath.

Hedgepath testified that he was called to Turnage’s residence to take possession of possible narcotics that were found during an investigation. When he arrived, he observed Turnage and Tabor in handcuffs standing near the front of Turnage’s truck. Sheriff Everett showed Hedgepath what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine, a couple of glass pipes, and some more miscellaneous stuff found during the investigation. Hedgepath stated he conducted a further search and found three separate clear plastic-type baggies, each containing what was later determined to be crystal methamphetamine.

Turnage was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced in 2023 to 40 years in MDOC, when he was located. On appeal, he argued the search of his truck was illegal. MCOA affirmed.


Although the trial court did not discuss the plain view exception in its order denying Turnage’s motion to suppress, we find that its discussion is warranted in this case.

MSC has held that probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer’s knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed. See Walker. Further, SCOTUS has recognized that if police are lawfully in a position from which they view an object, if its incriminating character is immediately apparent, and if the officers have a lawful right of access to the object, they may seize it without a warrant. See Minnesota v Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993). Police officers who have legitimately stopped an automobile and who have probable cause to believe that contraband is concealed somewhere within it may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle as thorough as a magistrate could authorize by warrant. See MSC Franklin v. State, 587 So. 2d 905 (Miss. 1991). Law enforcement does not have to shrug their shoulders and ignore illegal substances and items in plain view. See MSC Singletary v. State, 318 So. 2d 873 (Miss. 1975).  see also MCOA Anderson (holding when an officer determines an illegal substance is in plain view, the officer then has probable cause to make an arrest and search the vehicle).

Here, it is undisputed that Sheriff Everett was lawfully on Turnage’s property to discuss a prior incident. Sheriff Everett testified that when he arrived, Turnage and Tabor were sitting in Turnage’s parked truck, but they exited the truck in a hurried manner. While speaking to Turnage and Tabor, Sheriff Everett testified that he looked through the open window of Turnage’s truck and observed a glass meth pipe containing residue in plain view on the front seat of the truck. Sheriff Everett further testified that the appearance of the pipe was consistent with meth pipes he observed in his twenty-one years of training and experience in law enforcement. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a crime in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 41-29-139 (Rev. 2020). Accordingly, this observation raised probable cause to suspect that evidence of further contraband was contained in the vehicle. This allowed Sheriff Everett to conduct a search of Turnage’s truck for evidence of contraband. See MCOA Jim. This search resulted in the discovery of a bag with a substance in it, which was ultimately proved to be methamphetamine. Accordingly, giving deference to the trial court’s findings of the underlying facts and applying the plain view doctrine, we hold that there was substantial evidence to support the court’s finding of probable cause, and we find no error.

Having established the existence of probable cause, we now turn to Turnage’s argument that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement did not apply to the search of his truck. Under the automobile exception, if a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment permits police to search the vehicle without more. See MSC Roche. Furthermore, once an officer obtains probable cause to search a vehicle, then probable cause exists to search all compartments of the vehicle and all containers therein where the contraband could be. See MCOA Millsap. If officers have probable cause to believe that contraband is in only one part of a car, then they are limited to that area. If, on the other hand, officers have probable cause to believe that contraband is located somewhere in a car, but they don’t know exactly where, then they can search the entire vehicle. See MCOA Millsap.

Turnage claims the automobile exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because his truck was not readily mobile. However, the trial court found that Sheriff Everett believed the truck was readily mobile due to its involvement in the ambulance incident just days earlier. Further, it is clear from the record that Turnage’s truck was readily mobile. Sheriff Everett testified that when he arrived at Turnage’s property, Turnage and Tabor were sitting in the truck. Furthermore, Tabor testified that he and Turnage were preparing to drive the truck to deliver clothes to Turnage’s hospitalized wife, Brandy. It appears that Turnage is arguing that, because the truck was not actively in motion prior to the search, it was not readily mobile. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court has rejected the suggestion that the automobile exception does not apply when a vehicle is immobilized. See MSC Franklin v. State, 587 So. 2d 905  (Miss. 1991). This argument is without merit.

Turnage also claims that the automobile exception does not apply because there were no exigent circumstances involved as he presented no risk of flight nor threat to tamper with evidence because he was handcuffed. The State argues in its response that Turnage’s argument is contrary to the holding in Roche, where MSC settled the question by holding that there is no separate exigency requirement attached to the automobile exception.

(After discussion of some other cases, MCOA notes that it is in agreement with MSC that exigency is not required for the automobile exception).


Remember two things:

  1. Plain view allows officers to seize items if they are a) lawfully in a position from where they can view item, b) there is probable cause that item is incriminating, and c) officer has lawful access to item (via consent, exigent circumstances, search warrant, automobile exception, etc.)
  2. Automobile exception requires a) car is readily mobile, b) in a public place, and c) there is probable cause to believe evidence of crime inside car. After Collins, the automobile exception cannot take place inside the curtilage of a home.


This case never mentioned whether the car was inside the curtilage of the home or not.